Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Archie Bunker's Place: "Thanksgiving Reunion"

Premiered November 18, 1979.

"I set aside one day out of the year to celebrate the birth of the pilgrims and this guy spoils it!"
-Archie Bunker

Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) and her niece Stephanie (Danielle Brisebois) are preparing Thanksgiving dinner.  Edith mentions that her daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers), son-in-law Michael (Rob Reiner) and grandson Joey (Dick Billingsley) will be joining them for Thanksgiving.  But it's a secret and Stephanie must not tell her uncle Archie (Caroll O'Connor) about this.

That's not the only thing Stephanie is told to keep under wraps.  Michael has recently lost his teaching job.  He was fired after participating in a nude anti-nuclear protest.

When Michael and Gloria arrive, Archie is shocked but happy to see them.

He even smiles and hugs his son-in-law "Meathead."

Everything is going well until Archie learns that Michael has been fired.  He is enraged when he hears about the anti-nuclear protest.  Archie gets into a heated argument with Michael, just like the old days.

Michael says he did so because he believes nuclear power is dangerous and he wants Joey to grow up in a safer world.

Archie doesn't want to hear it, so he storms out and goes to his bar.  It appears that Thanksgiving has been ruined.

Can Thanksgiving be saved?

J.A. Morris says:

Most people remember All In The Family since it was one of the best and most important series of all time.  In addition to being a very funny sitcom, the show broke many TV taboos and was a huge hit with viewers and critics alike.  In later seasons, Michael and Gloria departed, while Archie spent more time at the bar he came to co-own.  All In The Family eventually morphed into this sequel series.

Archie Bunker's Place isn't well remembered, and that's for good reason.  It wasn't nearly as good as All In The Family.  I know because I was a regular viewer of the series.  Archie had mellowed into a generally likeable grandfatherly type.  His arguments with Murray (Martin Balsam), the liberally-minded co-owner of their bar, were never as entertaining or thought provoking as his quarrels with Gloria and Michael.

Murray gives Archie some advice.
Edith was eventually written out of Archie Bunker's Place and killed off.

But this is a very good episode.  It feels like the last episode of All In The Family that should have been.  Michael and Archie get one last episode to engage in intense political arguments.  It's worth noting that this episode aired eight months after a meltdown occurred at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant.  So nukes were a major topic in the news in 1979.

There's a scene where Gloria and Michael have a private conversation in the living room.  It doesn't really have anything to do with the plot, but it's nice to see these characters get a scene to show how much they love each other.

There are some moments in "Thanksgiving Reunion" that don't work.  Early in the episode, Barney (Allan Melvin), a regular at Archie's bar, is featured in a scene where he talks about how he always misses his ex-wife at Thanksgiving.  This just feels like padding, since it's never revisited.

This episode has been released on DVD as part of the Archie Bunker's Place:Season 1 set.

"Thanksgiving Reunion" is a nice farewell to one of TV's all-time great ensemble casts and is recommended.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 and a half pumpkin pies.

RigbyMel says:

I was familiar with All In The Family, but had never heard of Archie Bunker's Place until we started getting seriously into our holiday blogging!

As J.A. Morris says above, this feels like a good send off for the original All In The Family cast.  I've always liked the fact that even though Michael, Gloria and Edith disagree with Archie on a lot of issues,  it's also very evident that these characters really love each other deep down.

I like the way this episode uses the trope of family arguments at Thanksgiving as a way of highlighting those differences and disagreements, but at the end of the day, we see the family gathered over turkey in a late night fridge-raiding session enjoying each others' company DESPITE their differences.

This episode of Archie Bunker's Place does suffer from "Cousin Oliver" syndrome a bit, with the addition of the ever so slightly too cutesey/precocious sitcom moppets.

For instance, there is a silly subplot about Joey hiding the knobs for the TV, thereby preventing Archie from watching Thanksgiving football.   As J.A. Morris mentions, there's no payoff for the bit at the bar where one of the regulars bemoans that he has no one with whom to celebrate the holiday.

I also feel like Edith doesn't have quite enough to do in the episode, other than inadvertently spill the beans about the impending arrival of Michael & Gloria.  This is partly because Jean Stapleton was pretty much over playing the character at this point, I suspect, but it would've been nice to see more of her!

Considering that this is an extra-long episode, it doesn't really feel like it needs to be extra-long.

Still, this is a Thanksgiving episode worth watching at least once, if only because it is the last time that these beloved characters all appeared on a show together.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 pumpkin pies

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